2012 · 4 stars · historical fiction · mystery

review; the secret keeper

Title: The Secret Keeper
Author: Kate Morton
Pub. Date: October, 2012
Summary: 1959 England. Laurel Nicolson is sixteen years old, dreaming alone in her childhood tree house during a family celebration at their home, Greenacres Farm. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and then observes her mother, Dorothy, speaking to him. And then she witnesses a crime.

Fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to Greenacres for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by memories and questions she has not thought about for decades. She decides to find out the truth about the events of that summer day and lay to rest her own feelings of guilt. One photograph, of her mother and a woman Laurel has never met, called Vivien, is her first clue.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating:

Curiosity might have killed the cat, but little girls usually fared much better.

The Secret Keeper is one of those wonderful – and rare – books that latches on tight and stays with you long after you’ve turned the last page. I’m a relative newbie to Kate Morton; I’ve only read one other book (The Forgotten Garden) and I’ve been aching to read more ever since.

Despite its length – nearly 500 pages – The Secret Keeper is a fairly fast-paced novel. Told with dual-narratives (which seems to be a thing with Morton), the book travels through time (2011 and WWII-era England) as a daughter tries to uncover a mystery that has haunted her for fifty years and a mother makes peace with her actions as a young woman.

Fifty years ago, Laurel told a distant patch of stars, my mother killed a man. She called it self-defense, but I saw it. She raised the knife and brought it down and the man fell backwards onto the ground where the grass was worn and the violets were flowering. She knew him, she was frightened, and I’ve no idea why.

Within the opening chapters a man is murdered and young Laurel – sixteen at the time – witnessed the entire episode. On the day of her brother’s 2nd birthday Laurel hid in her treehouse and watched her mother stab a man, ultimately killing him.

Fifty years later, Laurel is a world-renowned actress and, along with her sisters and brother, has returned to Greenacres for her mother’s ninetieth birthday. Dorothy’s healthy is rapidly declining and Laurel is eager to finally find out who the man was and what he could have possibly done to make her mother react in such a violent manner.

It was strange indeed, to find herself within this place of childhood memories and see her grown-up wrinkled face staring back at her. Like Alice falling through the rabbit hole; or else falling through it again, fifty years on, only to find herself the only thing changed.

Again, The Secret Keeper is told through a dual-narrative (though, technically, I suppose it’s more of a dual-era). If you’re not a fan of more than one POV, Kate Morton will definitely change your perspective. She’s absolutely brilliant when it comes to dual-narratives and executes this technique flawlessly. The only complaint is that, just when you’re this close to uncovering a clue, the chapter ends and suddenly you find yourself back in 1940s.

Normally I’m all about spoilers in my reviews. I’m someone who loves spoilers and they naturally come out in my discussions of books. However, The Secret Keeper‘s final chapters were so shocking and unexpected that I’m determined not to ruin it for anyone. Everything falls so smoothly into place – it all makes sense why Dorothy was the way she was as a child and why the change was so drastic as an adult and her reasoning for killing a man is understandable.

Laurel found him on the Internet, though. Opposite problem there – one couldn’t disentangle oneself from that net for all the love and money in England. Henry Jenkins was one of millions of ghosts who lived inside it, milling wraithlike until the right combination of letters was entered and they were briefly resurrected.

Writing multiple POVs isn’t Kate Morton’s only area of expertise. Countless sentences were so beautifully written I got chills reading them. Whether it was a sentence about trying to track down an author online or a chapter about air raids, Ms. Morton’s writing never lets up. I felt myself sitting beside Laurel in her treehouse, I felt the fear coursing through the veins of everyone running for the safety of fallout shelters. Morton’s writing will never cease to amaze me.

One of the things I have come to know most surely in my work is that the belief system acquired in childhood is never fully escaped; it may submerge itself for a while, but it always returns in times of need to lay claim to the soul it shaped.

After having read two Kate Morton books now, I’m confident enough to say she’s among my favorite writers. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m someone who can recognize a plot twist coming from a mile away. That said, The Secret Keeper‘s reveal came out of nowhere and it hit me like a truck. I was not expecting it in the slightest, yet it worked. Lesser authors would have failed, but it was an entirely believable situation in Morton’s hands.

If you haven’t read Kate Morton before, I highly recommend doing so and The Secret Keeper is a wonderful starting point.

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